Only you can write your book

It sounds like a truism, but think about it. Even if you come across a book or movie with a similar story, yours can still be a book people want to read. But first you have to find - and own - your unique voice and viewpoint.

A writing-coach friend of mine noticed that novices who haven't yet found their writing voice often try too hard to be "writerly." They use a lot of flowery descriptions of the weather, or resort to melodrama with flashing eyes and clenched fists. My friend advised his students to practice with an exercise unrelated to their topic. His favorite prompt to help someone settle into a more authentic voice was "Tell me the history of your hair."

Two points: (1) My friend would say "Tell me" instead of "Write about" because we're more ourselves when we picture our reader. And (2) love it or hate it, our hair isn't exactly the same as anyone else's. Few of us are likely to get flowery about our hair. We're more likely to tell a funny or embarrassing anecdote, or explain our hair in relation to our siblings' or ancestors'. We get real.

"Getting real" in fiction has to go a step further. Your narrator or main character's voice isn't necessarily yours. But the same technique can serve: Just write the exercise from inside that person's head. 
CORRECTION: In my last newsletter, I implied that uploading a manuscript to a self-publishing platform was free of charge. At Draft2Digital and KDP it is. However, IngramSpark charges a $49 fee to upload a book.

Even so, there are ways around the fee, like IS's periodic coupon codes. (E.g., in February, all uploads were free for the entire month.) My membership at ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) includes five free uploads at IngramSpark every month.

ISBNs: Buy, borrow, or ignore?

In plain words, an International Standard Book Number is the product number on the barcode of a book. Every book that's for sale has one. Traditional publishers take care of ISBNs for you.

If you're an indie author, acquiring and using an ISBN number can be easy and free and automatic if you only plan to sell your book online. I chose the messy, time-consuming, and expensive option for my first self-publishing projectbecause this option allows brick-and-mortar booksellers and libraries to buy the book.

Although it's true that bookstores and libraries rarely order self-published titles, I'm hoping my book will be an exception. The Bridge Dancers was previously published traditionally and is still available in many libraries. (Not so much in bookstores.) I'd like to know that if a library wants to replace their copy, it will be available.* And I'm pretty sure my local independent bookstore will be happy to stock a few copies.

When you're ready to publish your book, you can make a thoughtful and informed choice about whether to buy your ISBN, use a free version, or do without. Dave Chesson gives a good overview at ("What Is an ISBN? 11 Facts for Self-Publishing Authors").

TIP: Don't pay for a barcode!

If you end up buying your ISBN, don't make the mistake I did and pay for barcodes as well. (The ISBN is a number; the barcode is a scannable image that incorporates the number.) Later, I learned that once you have an ISBN, the self-publishing platforms create the barcode for you automatically at no charge. Or you can generate a free barcode at

*Warning: When I finally get this puppy out into the world, you'll be the first to know. One of the motives behind my newsletter is to share my books with all my new best friends! (What? You thought I was doing this out of the goodness of my heart?)

I'll try not to overdo it. And in the meantime, I love sharing your new books. They give me hope that it can be done. Please write more books!

YOUR books

D. W. Alder, Reclaimed Life

Cora needs to break away from her father’s plans for her; Dixon needs to let his past go. In this contemporary, small-town romance, this couple works their way through every challenge and roadblock for their happily-ever-after.


Christine Pennylegion, Lex Operandi, Lex Credendi: Dorothy L. Sayers's Theology of Work

Christian theology. What is Christian work, and how are we to do it? Is work a blessing or a curse? What does it have to do with being made in God's image? Novelist-turned-theologian Dorothy L. Sayers answers these questions and more, leading to a practical theology of work for the church today.

Let me know if you published a book (indie or traditional) in the last three months. I'll give you a shout-out in the next newsletter. 

At the Writer, Editor, Helper blog, a post about choosing words carefully:

Does Length Matter? In Defense of the Long Word

Not long ago, the online Q&A at The Chicago Manual of Style** posted this exchange:

Q. If an author uses a rare word like “prevaricators” when “liars” would be more clear, should an editor change it? The author’s audience is college graduates, not necessarily English or journalism majors.

(Continue reading)

*For 20 years, I was the editor of the CMOS Q&A. At the time, it acquired a reputation for being a bit, well, cheeky. The University of Chicago Press ended up collecting hundreds of the best questions and answers in a book, But Can I Start a Sentence with "But"? You might enjoy it!
Read Previous Newsletters Here

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Thanks for reading! 

Tell Me What You Want (or Don't Want)

*If you scrolled all the way down here to find the notes, I'm sorry. Notes are in the khaki-colored boxes.

At my Writer, Editor, Helper Facebook page, you can comment on this newsletter, ask questions, and get to know other readers. I hope to see you there!
In Future Newsletters (unless I change my mind):
  • How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish? (Continuing series)
  • Outline Your Book, or Wing It?
  • Metadata, Our Best Friend

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